What role for constitutional courts in protecting democracy?

Recent scholarship has exhibited great faith in the ability of constitutional courts to protect democracy in fragile regimes, while of late a more skeptical position has emerged to challenge this near-orthodoxy. In this paper, I take a more equivocal and contextual approach to the issue, by considering some of the costs and benefits of a court-centered strategy, and whether the circumstances under which it is likely to succeed are common or rare. Among the benefits is the possibility that courts are the hardest institution to strip of independence. Among the costs is that too much responsibility for the electoral aspects of democracy may come at the expense of other dimensions that are perhaps more peculiarly the province of constitutional courts, and the focus on courts may undervalue the importance of multiple independent institutions. If institutional design assumes that courts are the last best hope of democracy, they may turn out to be so more quickly than otherwise.